The Most Memorable Moments In Poker History

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The game of poker has been around for centuries and has come a long way from saloon tables to where it is today.

The game
has turned into a global phenomenon over the years, and the number of people
who play poker (recreationally or professionally) has gone through the roof.

There have
been many important milestones for poker over its relatively recent history,
some of them turning out to be a major positive or negative influence on the
game.

It’s fair
to say that the past few decades have seen more significant events for poker than
all those centuries combined, so today, I want to mention ones that you should
know.

In this
article, we’ll take a short trip down memory lane to remember some of the
biggest, most important events that have marked poker history forever – for
better or worse.

January 1,
1998 – The First Online Poker Site Goes Live

1998 may seem a bit early for poker as most
major events took place quite a few years later.

However, it was on that very first day of 1998 that
the very first online poker room launched under the name of Planet Poker.

The site was founded by Randy Blumer and Mike Caro, poker legend and author of the famous Caro’s Book of Poker Tells.

In those days hardly anyone knew about online
poker, so it was a huge success for the room when it reached its first
milestone in February by keeping up a single cash game table running the entire
night – something hard to imagine today!  

Of course, the site had to deal with a ton of
difficulties as they started to grow, most of which were technical in nature.

Slow internet speeds, disconnections, and other
problems made the online poker experience a lot different twenty-odd years ago
compared to what it is today.

But it was a huge milestone, nonetheless. The
pair’s pioneering efforts started what would later become a multi-billion
dollar industry.

Planet Poker seized real-money operations in
2007 and continued to exist as a subscription-based play money site until 2017.

May 2003 – Chris Moneymaker Wins WSOP Main Event

Chris Moneymaker
The man who caused the “Moneymaker effect”. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

Back in 2003, an unknown accountant from
Atlanta, Georgia, won his seat in the Main Event from an online satellite at
PokerStars from a small buy-in of $86.

That year, WSOP Main Event saw a total of 839 entrants in the biggest yearly tournament and had the massive first-place prize of $2,500,000.

This was the time before all the crazy high
rollers and huge fields with thousands of entrants, so the $2.5 million for the
winner was the poker dream.

And it was especially the dream for the
aptly-named Moneymaker, who under zero circumstances could be considered a
professional player.

Yet, Moneymaker made it all the way through to
the final table and beyond, going into the heads up match for the title against
legendary Sammy Farha.

An experienced pro, Farha was dubbed a huge
favorite going into the final stage of that 2003 Main Event.

However, Moneymaker had different plans.

With some help from Lady Luck, he eventually
got all the chips in the middle with bottom two pairs against Farha’s top pair.
His hand held through the river, and he became the first-ever Main Event
champion to have qualified online.

This started a chain reaction that was later
named the “Moneymaker effect.” Millions of people across the globe suddenly
became attracted to the idea of playing poker.

“If Chris can do it, I can do it as well.“

Everyone thought they could win their entry online
for a few bucks, instead of paying the full amount of $10,000.

The dream was born.

Poker boomed in the following years, attracting
an ever-growing number of new players visiting World Series of Poker every
year.

January 2006 – High Stakes Poker Starts to Air

By 2006, poker was already a pretty big thing
as player numbers swelled in the years following the Moneymaker’s win.

In fact, it seemed that everyone wanted to see more
poker, and people couldn’t get enough of it.

Up to that point, pretty much all of the televised
events were just streaming tournaments, so it was a good time to change things
around.

It was the perfect time for the perfect poker
show.

High Stakes Poker producers decided to take a
different direction and bring nosebleed cash games to TV, featuring some of the
biggest and best-known names out there: Doyle Brunson, Sammy Farha, Phil
Hellmuth, Eli Elezra, Barry Greenstein, Jennifer Harman, and many other big
names.

The game was, of course, No-Limit Hold’em, and
stakes were $400/$800 – by far the biggest that viewers could see anywhere at
the time.

After a few episodes, it became clear the show
was pure gold. Everyone was tuning in to watch their heroes battle it out in
massive six-figure pots.

Although we can’t prove it, it’s probably fair
to say that High Stakes Poker was one of the biggest factors for the popularity
of poker across the globe.

Having an opportunity to see these players live
at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas was a huge inspiration for anyone who was
already flirting with the game.

The show was canceled in 2011, and that
announcement saddened the entire poker world to some degree.

Although the final seasons of High Stakes Poker
lost some of its initial magic, many agree that it was the best poker show
we’ve ever seen on TV.

Whether you agree or disagree on that point, this
simply has to make the list.

2006 – 2008 – The Absolute Poker / Ultimate Bet Cheating Scandal

One of the biggest scandals in the history of
online poker happened on Absolute Poker when several players were discovered to
have had access to information about other players’ hole cards.

They used this information to make perfect
decisions in all spots, winning substantial amounts of money over the course of
time.

It was in September of 2007 that the cheating
allegations were first brought up. The play by one specific account,
“Potripper”, during a particular tournament was brought in question.

After a careful analysis of all hands, it
became clear that this player had the information about other player’s hole
cards by a super-user account.

Then, in 2008, the same thing happened on
Ultimate Bet, the room owned by the same person and using the same gaming
license.

The investigation revealed six players playing
under different aliases, which were using the information provided to them by
super-user accounts to play perfect poker and cheat unsuspecting players out of
their money.

Eventually, Ultimate Bet admitted there was
cheating going on, and the gaming commission confirmed players lost millions of
dollars due to these actions, as this was going on since 2004.

However, the room continued to operate and had
to pay only a $1.5 million fine.

Those aware of the situation left the site
never to return, but many recreational players who missed the entire story
continued playing.

2009 – The Year of Isildur1

Viktor Blom
The mysterious “Isildur1” was actually Viktor Blom. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

By 2009, online poker was in full swing, and
there was some massive high stakes action happening around the clock,
especially on Full Tilt Poker, which gathered all of the best players out
there.

Many of them were sponsored pros or involved
with the room in one way or another.

Their presence helped bring other pros and rich
recreational players looking to mix it up the best, so everyone was happy.

In this highly competitive arena, out of
nowhere, a new player emerged, playing under alias “Isildur1”.

No one knew who he was or where he came from.

Anything anyone knew was that this new player
apparently had a big bankroll, was playing a crazy style, and was willing to
play anyone – no questions asked.

Initially, the poker public believed pros would
make quick work of the anonymous hero, but he kept beating everyone, taking on
the likes of Phil Ivey, Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan, Patrik Antonius and many more.

However, his winning streak was eventually
stopped by several pros who broke down Isildur1’s game by sharing his hand
histories – a move that was deemed quite questionable at the time.

In 2010, the identity of the man behind the
Isildur1 moniker was revealed as that of Viktor Blom, a young Swede who was no
stranger to high stakes action on other sites before coming to Full Tilt.

Blom was briefly signed up by PokerStars, and
he continued his poker career over the years to come.

However, those few months that left the entire
poker community completely confused over who this person was and how far they’d
go are definitely a significant part of online poker history.

Never before, or after, have we seen someone or
something generate so much attention with countless forum posts and people from
all over the world firing up their Full Tilt clients in the middle of the night
just to see who Isildur1 would take on next.

April 15, 2011 – The Black Friday

Anyone who used to play poker back in 2011 will
likely remember this date for the years to come.

If we had to determine the order of magnitude
for this event, it would likely be just as big as Moneymaker’s win (if not
bigger) – but with the opposite effect.

On this day, the USA Department of Justice seized the domains of several leading online poker operators, namely PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Ultimate Bet on account of violating the UIEGA.

People who were trying to figure out what was
going on and why they weren’t able to play were greeted by the scary message:
“This domain name has been seized by the F.B.I…”

Perhaps you remember seeing this?

Poker’s Black Friday created a wave of panic
throughout the poker community, unlike anything before or after.

Hundreds of thousands of people had their
bankrolls on these sites, and, for many, this was their livelihood.

No one had any idea about what was really going
on and what would come next, so the next few days were filled with anxiety and
anticipation.

It was soon revealed that what was happening
behind the scenes would only affect US players, while it would be business as
usual for the rest of the world.

But for the US players, especially the
professionals, this was a huge blow. No one from the States could access the
rooms, and they had no idea when, how, and even if their money would be returned.

PokerStars answered the challenge, and US
customers were able to start withdrawing their balances about 10 days after the
Black Friday.

Absolute Poker and Full Tilt weren’t as
effective, though, with a lot of empty promises but no money coming players’
way.

Then, at the end of June of 2011, Full Tilt
went dark once again, but this time for everyone. Their gaming license was
suspended, and everyone had their balances stuck on the site.

In the meantime, Absolute Poker has gone
completely under, and it has become pretty clear that players wouldn’t see a
cent from them.

Happenings of the Black Friday and its
aftermath did a huge amount of damage for online poker on a global level.

US players were forced out, many players lost
money in the process (or it was stuck for the perceivable future), and all of
this sent a huge shockwave, scaring many away from the idea of playing online
poker.

It wasn’t the end, of course, but the impact on
the poker economy was huge.

July 31, 2012 – PokerStars Buys Full Tilt Poker

The drama over Full Tilt funds continued over
the months after Black Friday, and players were slowly losing hope they’d get
their money back.

Then, late in July of 2012, it was announced
that PokerStars would acquire Full Tilt with all of its assets and would pay
all players’ balances as the part of the transaction.

It was a great day for the rest of the world’s
players as they were finally given access to their funds, and PokerStars truly
delivered on its promise.

Everyone was repaid in full and could easily
withdraw their money or transfer it to PokerStars and continue to play there.

For US players, the process was much more
complicated, though. It wasn’t until 2014 that the first payments were made
towards US customers.

Eventually, everyone who filed the required
paperwork did get their money back, but it was a long and painstaking process.

July 2012 – The First $1,000,000 Buy-in Tournament

When the World Series of Poker announced the
first $1,000,000 buy-in event called the Big One for One Drop, the news created
crazy excitement among the fans and players alike.

With those wanting to participate having to pay
a cool one million each and the number of seats limited, this was going to be
one of the most exciting and entertaining events that people at home could
enjoy on their TVs.

As many reading this probably know, the event was started by Guy Laliberte, the founder of the One Drop Foundation, and a sizeable chunk of every buy-in was going towards the foundation that helps provide people with clean drinking water in crisis areas around the globe.

The first iteration of the Big One for One Drop
saw 48 players in total, and, as expected, the tournament attracted some of the
biggest names around – the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Brian Rast,
and many others.

In the end, it was Antonio Esfandiari who took
home the title and the massive $18.3 million first place, defeating Sam
Trickett in the heads-up skirmish.

Antonio Esfandiari basking in his glory. [Image: Las Vegas Sun]

Whether it was because of the Big One for One
Drop or not, in the years to follow, we saw a sharp increase in high roller
tournaments.

There were high stakes events popping up all
over the place, featuring $50,000, $100,000, and $250,000 buy-ins, often
offering players a chance to reenter if they bust early on.

In a way, this ushered a new period in poker
history, the era of high rollers, with numerous events with big buy-ins and
huge prize pools.

The number of tournaments offering seven-figure
prizes for top finishers swelled tremendously, which had its positive and
negative sides.

On the one hand, these big events were good for
TV, but, on the other, it made prizes in “smaller” buy-in events seem less
impressive to a casual viewer.

April 30, 2013 – Regulated Online Poker Returns to the US

It took a couple of years after that fateful
Black Friday for regulated poker to come back to the US through the small door.

Finally, on April 30, 2013, the first regulated
online poker room went live in Nevada.

It was Ultimate Poker, and it was only
available to the players physically located in the state, but it was a
significant landmark nonetheless.

Several other states would follow suit in the
months and years to come, including Delaware, New Jersey, and, most recently,
Pennsylvania.

While there is still a lot of work to be done
if online poker is ever to be regulated on the federal level and no one knows
when US players will be able to rejoin the global pool, the launch of first
state-regulated rooms was a big step in the right direction.

What’s Next For Poker?

Many of the events described in this article
had a huge impact on the game, playing a defining role in its future.

We’ll likely see many more milestone events moving forward. Just look at how the global pandemic caused a new poker boom – anything could happen at any point.

We’ve had our fair share of negative milestones over the years so let’s hope that the cards fall the right way, so we can enter the golden era of poker once again


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